Alumni News and Notes

February 22, 2017

Olivia Letts

Lou Anna K. Simon

Honoring women pioneers

Two alumni from the College of Education were inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in October 2016. Olivia Letts, M. ’54, Ed.D. ’70 and Ph.D. ’75 (Educational Administration and Curriculum), was the first African American teacher in the Lansing School District, and later became the district’s first African American principal at Post Oak Elementary. Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D. ’74 (Administration and Higher Education), was also inducted, noted for being the first female president at MSU. Also in October, Simon was named to the Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship, which recognizes exceptional leaders who unite academics and communities to benefit society.

Gus Ganakas

Kaleb Thornhill

Awarding athletics

Gus Ganakas, B. ’49 (Physical Education), and Kaleb Thornhill, M.S. ’09 (Kinesiology), were honored at the 20th annual Varsity S Club Awards in September 2016.

Ganakas received the Eldon VanSpybrook Retired Coaches Award. Ganakas held many positions at MSU, most notably head basketball coach from 1969-76, and assistant athletic director from 1976-98. He retired in 2000 after 36 years with the university.

Thornhill received the Cheryl M. Gilliam Young Alumni Award. He is the co-founder of APEX Academy, a nonprofit that engages, educates and empowers student-athletes from under-resourced backgrounds who have the desire to attend and complete college. He also works with the Miami Dolphins as director of player engagement.

A grand celebration

At the annual Michigan State University Alumni Grand Awards Gala in October 2016, several college alumni were honored for their extraordinary achievements and dedication to the university.

Craig and Vicki Brown

Craig and Vicki Brown, B.A. ’75 (Special Education), received a Philanthropist of the Year Award for their time and monetary contributions to Spartan Athletics, the Broad College of Business and Spartan Innovations.

Richard Bryce

Richard Bryce, teacher certification ’03, received a Young Alumni Award, which recognizes those 40 years and younger who have distinguished themselves in their career. Bryce is an assistant professor at Wayne State University, and works with Community Health and Social Services Center in Detroit.

Ingrid Saunders Jones

Ingrid Saunders Jones, B.A. ’69 (Elementary Education) and Michael and Kathryn Bosco, B. ’58 (Elementary Education), received Alumni Service Awards for their volunteer efforts both within and outside of MSU. Saunders Jones chairs the National Council of Negro Women and is a retired senior vice president at The Coca-Cola Foundation. Kathryn Bosco is a retired teacher; Michael Bosco is an attorney in Phoenix, Ariz.

Kathryn and Michael Bosco

Presidential honors

President Barack Obama honored three alumni with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in August 2016. The award celebrates educators across the country for their outstanding contributions to the classroom:

  • Brian Langley, M.A. ’02 (Curriculum and Teaching), a physics teacher at Novi High School in Novi, Mich.
  • Wendy Osterman, M.A. ’06 (Education), now a district assessment coordinator in Bloomfield Hills Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
  • Francie Robertson, M.A. ’08 (Curriculum and Teaching), a fourth-grade teacher at Pine Tree Elementary in Lake Orion, Mich.



Leah Beasley-Wojick, Ph.D. ’15 (Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education), has been working with the Princeton Review as a college counselor, primarily helping underrepresented minority students navigate the college search and application process. In addition, Beasley-Wojick is president and founder of Beasley College Consulting, LLC.

Kathleen Bieschke, Ph.D. ’91 (Counseling Psychology), became interim dean for Schreyer Honors College, part of Penn State University, in June 2016. Joining Penn State in 1991, Bieschke is the head of the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education and a professor-in-charge for the Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies minor.

Stu Cameron, Ed.D. ’16 (Educational Leadership), became superintendent of Imlay City Schools in October 2016. Cameron has served in many capacities for the Michigan district, including as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and executive director of curriculum and instruction.

Daniel Carr, B.A. ’96 (Spanish – Secondary Education) and M.A. ’02 (Curriculum and Teaching), was named 2016 Educator of the Year as part of the Michigan Lottery’s Excellence in Education program. A Spanish and sports marketing teacher in Lansing, Mich., Carr earned a trophy and $10,000, presented by MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo (pictured, right), as part of his award.

Daniel Carr accepting his award from Tom Izzo

Robert Coffey, Ph.D. ’14 (Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education), became the assistant director of international admissions at MSU in August 2016, working to identify and recruit international students. Previously, Coffey was a senior project manager in housing at the University of Michigan.

Beginning in July 2016, Wendy Darga, M.A. ’92 (Curriculum and Teaching), became principal at Reuther Middle School, part of Rochester Community Schools. Darga has been a part of Rochester schools for 27 years, serving as a teacher and assistant principal.

Todd Gilson, Ph.D. ’08 (Kinesiology), was named director of the Northern Illinois University Honors Program in July 2016. In this position, Gilson works with other colleges, departments and units on campus to facilitate a program for more than 1,100 students. Gilson is an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at NIU.

Jerry L. Johns, M. ’66 and Ph.D. ’70 (Elementary Education), along with his wife, Annette, received the Northern Illinois University Foundation Award for High Impact Philanthropy. Johns is a professor emeritus at NIU. The couple was instrumental in creating the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, which serves more than 500 students annually with reading and educational support.

Alumna Victoria Lipscomb, M.S. ’16 (Kinesiology), joined the coaching ranks at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in July. Lipscomb is the assistant coach for women’s basketball. Previously, she was a graduate assistant at MSU under women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant.

Dalinda Martinez, Ph.D. ’16 (Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education), received the 2016 Barbara K. Townsend Dissertation of the Year Award from the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students. Martinez, who works with the education team at the Kresge Foundation, was honored for her work, “Transitioning: Experiences of Transfer Students.”

Patrick Milkovich, B.S. ’76 (Physical Education) and M.A. ’86 (Health and Physical Education), is featured in a new publication about legendary Spartan wrestling alumni. “Mustang,” penned by Jim Kalin and published by Shem Creek Press, highlights Milkovich’s career, including how he was the first college wrestler to ever appear in four NCAA finals, and the youngest to ever win.

Alumna Chandra Owen, M.A. ’11 (Educational Technology), won the 2016 National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators Gold Star Award. The award recognizes innovative ideas for financial aid; Owen won along with others at MSU for “Utilizing Learning Management Systems for Financial Aid Training.”

Matt Oney, M.A. ’14 (Teaching and Curriculum), was appointed to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission. Oney, who became a teacher through the Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship at MSU, is the only practicing teacher and the only representative from the Upper Peninsula on the commission.


Christopher Sell, M.A. ’10 (Student Affairs Administration), was named to the Lansing State Journal’s 10 Over the Next Ten in October 2016. The awards honor young professionals who are making a difference in their community outside the scope of their jobs, and are projected to make an impact over the next 10 years. Sell is director of alumni and entrepreneur engagement at MSU.

Kellie Stilson, B.A. ’15 (Mathematics-Secondary Education), was chosen by the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation as a 2016 Teaching Fellow. As part of the program, Stilson—a teacher at South Elgin High School in Illinois—receives funds for professional development and teaching materials, and mentorship and support from other educators.

Kevin Sydnor was named director of the MSU Upward Bound program in September 2016. Sydnor, M.A. ’87 (Educational Psychology), is assisting low-income high school students develop the skills and motivation to enroll in and graduate from college.

Dale Ulrich, Ph.D. ’81 (Health and Physical Education), received the Julian U. Stein Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Healthy and Physical Educators (SHAPE) America in April 2016. The award recognizes an individual who has exemplified leadership in teaching, mentoring, writing, speaking and volunteerism at all levels of professional involvement. Ulrich is a professor and director of the Center on Physical Activity and Health in Pediatric Disabilities at the University of Michigan.

Dale Ulrich

Melissa Vader, B.A. ’15 (Elementary Education), began work at Russell Cave Elementary School in Lexington, Ky. as an English as a second language teacher. The school serves a predominantly Hispanic population of more than 60 percent English language learners.

Ryan Walentowski, B.S. ’03 (Kinesiology), was appointed principal of Orchard Center High School in Monroe, Mich. in July 2016. Walentowski originally joined the staff in 2009 as a physical education teacher.

Photo credits: Harley J. Seeley Photography (Grand Awards); Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame (Letts); Michigan State University (Simon); Michigan State Athletic Communications (Thornhill); Pat Little Photography (Bieschke); Michigan Lottery (Carr); Kenny Felt (Langley); National Science Foundation (Osterman and Robertson)